Kellogg's Labor Relations VP Out After Calling Union Leaders 'Terrorists'
For decades, since at least the 1980s, it was de rigueur to be anti-union. States passed right-to-work laws like they were going out of style, easily convincing workers that unions were just corrupt organizations out to take their money in the form of dues. There was a general feeling that those at the top ought to be praised as "job creators" (who could take away all of the jobs at any moment if they wanted to) who deserved everything they got and that everyone else should just be glad that they had jobs at all. People loved bragging about how they'd work 60 hour weeks (no overtime!), never took vacation days, and never asked for a raise — proof positive that they, at least, weren't lazy or entitled.
But things are changing. While these changes haven't yet been reflected in the number of US Americans belonging to unions, 68 percent say they approve of labor unions, the highest percentage since 1965, when support was at 71 percent. That's a big deal. Also a big deal is the fact that unionization efforts and labor strikes have been getting positive coverage in the news and workers have found encouragement and support on social media.
But not everyone is too keen on these developments, particularly those who benefited from the old ways.
On Sunday, Kellogg's announced that their now-former vice president of human resources and labor relations Ken Hurley is out, after The Intercept obtained audio of a presentation he gave last week, during which he called unionized workers "terrorists."
The meeting was with CUE, also known as the "Council on Union-free Environment," though they do not include that on their website. CUE was initially formed in the 1970s by the National Association of Manufacturers for the purpose of fighting President Jimmy Carter's proposed 1977 Labor Law Reform Bill, which would have made it easier for non-union workers to organize and form unions. Sadly, the bill did not pass.
During the meeting, Hurley complained to CUE's attorneys and union suppression consultants about the amount of support Kellogg's workers received from President Joe Biden, other Democratic politicians, and people on social media during their strike last fall, none of whom even considered his feelings.
These comments are best read while listening to Mozart's Lacrimosa:
Federal and government state officials got heavily engaged. As was mentioned earlier, we got a visit from the US Labor Secretary Marty Walsh at the Lancaster picket line. It was the first visit ever by a US Labor secretary to a, uh, active picket line. And then on December 10th when we issued our intent to hire permanent replacements, Joe Biden came out with a statement saying he’s against permanent replacements and basically an anti-Kellogg public release. So it really was a … we were really getting it from both barrels.
We were having a negotiation, the union wasn’t really willing to negotiate and there really was absolutely nothing we could have put on the table early on that they would have agreed to. I think this strike was an absolute fait accompli before we even got there.
You know I got a call from our federal mediator sometime before this statement from the president went out saying you know, if you guys pull back on your statement about permanent replacements, then I can tell the White House and they might refrain from doing this, but I said look, we have a business to run and we don’t have control over, you know again we’re in good company here. But in my view, the union leadership here at the bargaining table were behaving more like terrorists than partners.
Hurley also complained at great length during the meeting about the media start-up More Perfect Union. “It’s a George Soros-funded, pro-union activist organization; they had a camera, and a reporter was asking us questions as we entered the room,” he said, describing his incredible trauma.
Via The Intercept:
Later, during a question-and-answer portion of the conference, Hurley called More Perfect Union a “worthy adversary” and “very sophisticated.” The media outlet, he added, churns out “very impactful videos, and they’re a force to be reckoned with. … I will say, it’s really impossible for a company, a large company, to combat the kind of cinematography and emotion that comes out of those social media posts when they’re produced so well.”
The negotiation “ambush” interview, he said, “was all set up by the union.”
Kellogg’s comments did not surprise [More Perfect Union founder] Faiz Shakir, who laughed at Hurley’s characterization of his small media team as more powerful than Kellogg’s, which has a market capitalization of over $23 billion and teams of lobbyists, lawyers, and public relations experts.
Incredible that he doesn't know he's the bad guy here. Like all of those words were coming out of his mouth and he thought to himself, "Clearly, I, the guy who wanted to fire a bunch of people from their jobs, am the victim here."
Just to remind you, the Kellogg's workers were not exactly asking for the sun, moon and stars here, as Hurley insinuated. The contract the company had initially proposed was actually worse than the contract they had previously — so it's hardly shocking that they turned that down. Kellogg's asked workers to give up their quality health care plan, retirement benefits, and holiday and vacation pay, and also wanted to expand the two-tier system in which "legacy" employees made around $35 an hour while newer employees, called "transitional" employees, made only $22. The previous contract required them to cap the number of transitional employees at 30 percent, and Kellogg's wanted to get rid of that cap so they could eventually pay all of their workers crap wages.
And what the workers ended up getting was not exactly out of this world either. The two-tier system was not abolished, although all employees who had been there for four years or more were given "legacy" status. They got to keep their pension plan and current benefits plus dental and vision, cost-of-living raises, an immediate raise of $1.80 for all employees, and for the next five years, transitional employeess will graduate to legacy at the rate of three percent of the company's total headcount.
In response to Hurley's commentary, Trevor Bidelman, president of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union Local 3G, pointed out that perhaps Hurley and others had been spoiled by the anti-labor, pro-management zeitgeist of the last 20 years. “You know, Ken Hurley fully believes that US Kellogg’s workers have too much and we should be giving things back to make sure the business succeeds," he said. "Well, I’m sorry, nobody stood up for 20 years and everybody kept acquiescing to the fact that CEOs get paid $10 million and stock profits.”
Upon finding out about Hurley's presentation to CUE, Kellogg chair and CEO Steve Cahillane told The Intercept, “We are just learning about these statements, as they were not authorized by Kellogg. We are embarrassed as a company – the comments and the tone in which they were delivered do not reflect the values of our organization or our position,” adding, “We sincerely apologize. We have a long and productive history of working with our unions. We fully expect that will continue moving forward.”
And then, as mentioned, they decided to find a replacement for him.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse